Mrs. Gallman assigned the reading. It was just another day of homework at first. Then I turned the page and saw the photo. The image captivated me more than anything else in my fifth grade social studies book.
There in the photo, hanging on the side of a cliff was a place where people had lived. The setting stood in stark contrast to the rolling hills of my upstate South Carolina home. My only insights into native people of this land had been the stereotypical characters found on western movies and TV shows.
Really? I thought. People lived in cliffs in our country? I’ll have to see that to believe it. Surely it must be in South America.
Now, here I am—walking down the steep and winding trail to Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde National Park. History is alive as I gaze between the shrubs to see these cliff dwellings ahead. But the trail I walk is for modern tourists. The inhabitants of this community would have accessed Spruce Tree House via foothold and finger-hold niches cut into the rock cliff as they descended from the mesa above.
I stand in silence trying to imagine the life of the inhabitants in this dwelling constructed between 1200 and 1276 AD. In addition to 114 rooms, the community has eight circular ceremonial chambers called kivas all built into a natural cave on the side of a cliff. Fred descends into one of the kivas while I gaze into one where the roof has long since collapsed.
Imagine women grinding corn against a stone in the courtyard while others sit weaving baskets. And then there are those who are creating the distinctive white and black pottery of Mesa Verde. See residents weave turkey feathers or rabbit fur into Yucca cord to create warm clothing. Meanwhile, crops are being farmed on the mesa overhead. No modern tools, no beasts of burden, just ingenuity and hard work.
Smell the smoke of winter fires burning around the clock to keep the community warm. Notice the black soot on the rock overhead. See the animal hides covering the small doors to keep out the cold.
Wooden poles stick out from the stones reflecting the framework of the ancient pueblo’s construction. A small patch of geometric pattern painted on the wall remains and is a reminder that the walls were once upon a time decorated–the urge for creativity and aesthetics an ingrained part of human nature.
Spruce Tree House is the third largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde where an extensive number of archeological remains exist. It captivates the imagination and stimulates curiosity. And well…Mrs. Gallman, even standing in the Spruce Tree House in person, I still find it hard to believe.
Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde National Park
In Spruce Tree House
Fred enters a kiva at Spruce Tree House